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Throwback Thursday: French Influence in the RGV

Throwback Thursday

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The story of French immigration into south Texas is a fascinating one. To begin with, this was Spanish America because Spain was at war with France so the Spanish did not allow any French immigration. It was in 1830 in the Republic of Mexico that the French influence began to appear. French names began showing up on documents throughout Mexico, especially in the Matamoros, Tamaulipas area.

One of those prominent names was George Brulay. At the age of 14 from Paris he went and joined a sailing vessel that was owned by a friend of the family. George sailed across the ocean to the New World. The vessel ended up shipwrecked off of the coast of Cartagena, Columbia and the young boy was taken in by the natives and was nurtured for three years until he finally made it back to France. George only stayed there for one year because he wanted to get back to the New World. He arrived in America through Tampa and it was not long afterwards he went through New Orleans and then into Matamoros.

As the years went by George a partnership with another generous figure in south Texas, Casimiro Tamayo. Together they bought 1,000 acres which today can still be seen we seen. They purchased the land for about $2,000. Then Casimiro Tamayo withdrew from the partnership and the rest of the plantation was left to the guidance of George Brulay. When George arrived on the spot it was a virgin chaparral. He literally had to clear the entire range with oxen and mules and dug the canals all the way from the river to his plantation.

The significance of George Brulay is immense for south Texas. Prior to this point of his innovative ways and gifts to agriculture, the area had the milling of sugar canes by oxen and a wooden wheel. It was also very primitive especially in getting the water from the river. Brulay introduced his steam engine pumps and that drew water from the river. With that innovation this area bloomed with agriculture.

George Brulay’s first crop on this land was not sugarcane, it was cotton. It was Sea Island cotton that was taken to Europe and turned out to be very profitable. He later did a test patch of sugarcane and that grew to a very healthy proportion. He began planting sugar and successively built various stages of sugar refineries and mills that caught the eye of other farmers in this area.

In 1895 Brulay built a beautiful house in downtown Brownsville, it was called Château Brulay. It was like stepping back into Paris from the new empire. The Brulay Family were the pinnacle of French culture in south Texas and in northern Mexico. The thumbprint that George Brulay put on the Rio Grande Valley culture is everlasting.

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